How one autistic man discovered his calling

Griffin finds his calling of welding

One day, when Griffin was 16, his dad brought home a 1965 Chevy C10 pickup with the plan to work together to fix it up. They’d never done anything quite like this before, but Griffin was game.

Griffin was also about to discover something incredible—his calling.

As part of the project, his father purchased a couple welders and a plasma cutter to help with metalworking. To this day, they’ve never used the welders on the truck. And yet, they changed Griffin’s life. Because, even though they’d just been sitting there uselessly, Griffin eventually got curious about them. He started researching what kinds of things he could make with a welder. And he got excited.

Griffin has always loved two things: antiquing for hidden treasures and working with his hands. And the welder was a perfect way to combine the two. He began collecting scrap metal from flea markets and private sellers—things like old tools, silverware, machine parts, and more. And he began creating.

He made fish out of wrenches, forks, and pickaxes. He made frogs and tulips out of horseshoes. He made a four-foot giraffe out of rebar. He practiced and he created. He took shop classes in high school and learned to make his welds “smooth like butter,” he says.

And he started to see additional opportunities with his newfound hobby, donating his sculptures to fundraisers to be sold at auction, and selling his pieces to a local shop, some of them earning as much as $300 per sculpture.

That’s when fate intervened a second time—or, at least, Griffin’s college did.

Griffin is one of our students at AbleLight College, a two-year program in partnership with Concordia University Wisconsin that gives students with disabilities the college experience while helping them developing the life skills they’ll need after graduation. Griffin is autistic and, according to him, it was his parents’ idea for him to attend school at this particular program—but it wasn’t long before he realized this was exactly where he was meant to be.

In the fall, Concordia University offers a program called CU Launch designed to help budding entrepreneurs develop and hone a business idea with the intent of helping them potentially turn it into a profitable venture. At the end of the program, one winner takes home seed funding to help them get their idea off the ground. And the moment Griffin saw a poster advertising the program, he wanted in.

“I realized this is where I needed to be,” he says. “I realized that I have a purpose in this program.”

It’s clear to Griffin that owning his own business where he can make and sell art is what he needs to do. And he is already well on his way. He’s building a website he can use to promote his business and show photos of his art. He’s already taking art classes at school and he intends to add business courses as well.

Winning the seed money would be a major boost for Griffin and his business, which is called G&S Custom Art and Welding (the G is for Griffin and the S is for Steve, Griffin’s father). He wants to use the money to officially launch his website, explore getting his own studio space, and maybe get a 3D printer so he can expand his art techniques.

But even if he doesn’t win, there’s little doubt Griffin will succeed. He’s got the talent and the drive. And he has a whole slew of supporters who have helped him along the way—like an art teacher who helped him learn to cut metal properly, and a woman who keeps Griffin in the supplies he needs for his art, often contacting him first when something particularly exciting comes in.

What’s more, Griffin is already making an impact just by being himself. He’s taking cold, discarded metal and transforming it into something vibrant and alive. He’s supporting charities and foundations through his generous sculpture donations. And, in a world where people with autism and other developmental disabilities are often underestimated, Griffin is showing that people with disabilities can do amazing things. Can dream big and forge their own paths toward reaching their goals. And can make a true and lasting dent on the world.